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Human Genome News Archive Edition

Human Genome News, January 1994; 5(5)

NIH Genome Council Updated on Programs, Centers

The ninth meeting of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research was convened on September 20, 1993, with Francis Collins, Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR), presiding. Collins announced that Harold Varmus, an enthusiastic supporter of the Human Genome Project, had been nominated for the post of NIH director. (Note: Varmus was confirmed shortly after this meeting.)

Collins reported on the requested FY 1994 NCHGR appropriation. He also updated the council on the status of the new intramural program, which focuses on the many applicationsof genome research to medical genetics. The extramural program continues to pursue long-range Human Genome Project goals. He asked members to help clarify the distinct missions of each program to their colleagues.

Council members asked about the possibility of researchers visiting NIH for 3 to 6 months to use the intramural program's genomic tools and resources. Collins explained that laboratory space is limited and the NCHGR facility is not designed to replace outreach programs in the extramural community. However, fair selection criteria and request prioritization will be used to make these resources available to as many researchers as possible.

Collins gave an overview of the meeting on cystic fibrosis (CF) held by the genome project's Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program on September 8-9 in Washington, D.C. (see NIH Consortium Reviews CF Testing, Counseling article). Council members agreed that the CF study offered valuable data for understanding issues such as screening and presymptomatic testing for other diseases. Because each disease has its own set of quantitative and qualitative issues, members stressed that the results should not be overgeneralized.

Because of tremendous achievements and progress in genome science, the original 5-year goals of the U.S. Human Genome Project have been revised and extended [see the October 1, 1993, issue of Science and HGN 5(4), 1-3, 5 (November 1993)]. The draft document was circulated among council members for their comments and editorial changes. After discussing several points, the council recommended that the new goals be published and disseminated.

Schedule for NIH-DOE Meetings
Elke Jordan (NCHGR) pointed out that NIH and DOE have a Memorandum of Understanding that provides for three annual joint advisory meetings in addition to numerous ongoing collaborations between the two agencies. Because of the merger of the NIH Program Advisory Committee and the council, a new schedule was proposed for joint meetings between the council and the DOE Human Genome Coordinating Committee. One meeting would be held after the January council meeting and another at a national conference such as the May genome mapping and sequencing meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. The third date would be left open for possible fall events such as a retreat or the American Society of Human Genetics meeting. Members agreed with the schedule and expressed the need to have small groups with well-defined purposes and agendas. They also suggested that different subsets of council members might attend meetings according to the topic being discussed. Jordan stated that the ELSI working group, the only one remaining from the Program Advisory Committee, would report at the joint DOE-NIH advisory meeting.

Report on Centers Management
Jane Peterson, Chief of the NCHGR Mammalian Genomics Branch, summarized current practices for managing large grants and listed a number of discussion items for the council's consideration. She described how NCHGR manages centers, from application to award, and monitors progress toward achieving the centers' goals.

Peterson explained that she and Jeffery Schloss visited and surveyed many other NIH institutes about management practices for centers programs. Peterson stated that staff are closely involved with NCHGR genome centers, an advantage that builds in some flexibility and encourages rapid progress. Annual written reports and staff site visits are extremely useful to NCHGR in discussing progress and other important issues for each center. The policy of requiring data- and material-release statements as an award condition is unique.

Several members stated that specific program areas such as sequencing may need more recruitment, but this should be done through new requests for applications, not necessarily new centers. Peterson explained that cost sharing by applicant institutions varies widely and that NCHGR requires much less institutional commitment than do most NIH institutes. Members agreed that cost-sharing issues should be examined carefully with each applicant but that institutions differ markedly in the financial resources they can contribute.

The council did not set a maximum on NCHGR funding for laboratory alterations but agreed that many renovations are costly and too time consuming. Members strongly recommended that applicants use the space they have and make only modest changes.

In general, members agreed that budget reductions due to changes in plans or poor performance should be approached cautiously so that high-risk projects would not be discouraged. David Botstein (Stanford University School of Medicine) suggested that in some cases the council could make conditional awards in which funds could be removed or restored based on a center's progress. Shirley Tilghman (Princeton University) proposed that such decisions should be made in conjunction with the council to maintain consistency.

Several members stated that convening formal meetings among centers is not necessarily the responsibility of NCHGR. Rather, center directors are obligated to be aware of what others in the field are doing and to use a wide variety of sources for keeping abreast of current scientific progress.

During the closed portion of the meeting, the council reviewed 89 applications requesting $25,805,530 and recommended for approval a total of 69 applications requesting $12,522,748. Future meetings were set for January 24-25 and May 9-10.


HGMIS Staff

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v5n5).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.